Apr 20, 2020
Until nine years ago, the state of California had a large stockpile of emergency medical equipment, including 2,400 ventilators, 50 million N95 respirator masks, and kits to set up 21,000 patient beds. California also had three fully-equipped, 200-bed mobile hospitals, to be deployed in areas hit by natural disasters and pandemics.
Those are exactly the things that health care workers say California has severe shortages of in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. But in 2011, politicians who ran the state government dismantled the state’s emergency medical stockpile and mobile hospital programs. Then-governor Jerry Brown said, quite cynically, that he was getting rid of the programs because “a potential influenza epidemic”, which he said the programs were set up for five years before, had not occurred. One Assemblyman even suggested the state should sell its “unneeded” medical equipment on eBay!
Instead, state officials said, the state gave most of the equipment, including hundreds of ventilators (critical for the treatment of coronavirus patients) to local hospitals. Hospitals then resold many of the ventilators, some out of state, to avoid maintenance costs, according to dealers who buy and sell used medical equipment. The state did not pay to replace the 50 million N95 masks when they expired.
Avoiding maintenance costs—that was also the reason given by politicians for axing California’s emergency medical stockpile and mobile hospitals. The state was spending $5.8 million per year to maintain these two programs—which is less than one hundredth of one percent of the state’s 129- BILLION-dollar budget that year!